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COVID-19: Travel Restrictions & Considerations for Global Employers

March 18, 2020

As countries grapple with the spread of the coronavirus (COVID-19) pandemic, recent international travel restrictions have been put in place around the world, including in Europe, Canada, India, and Australia. This LawFlash covers the latest travel impacts in those areas and discusses visa and other considerations for international travelers, employers, and employees.

Schengen Borders

Effective immediately, most non-EU nationals are banned from entering Schengen Area member countries or Bulgaria, Croatia, Cyprus, and Romania. The ban is in place for a 30-day period and may be extended. Ireland and the United Kingdom are not covered by the EU ban, which was announced on March 17, but may decide to join the European Union with similar measures.

Schengen is an area in Europe without internal border checks and with coordinated visa requirements, comprising Austria, Belgium, the Czech Republic, Denmark, Estonia, Finland, France, Germany, Greece, Hungary, Iceland, Italy, Latvia, Liechtenstein, Lithuania, Luxembourg, Malta, the Netherlands, Norway, Poland, Portugal, Slovakia, Slovenia, Spain, Sweden, and Switzerland.

Entry remains permitted for EU, Schengen, and UK nationals as well as EU long-term residence permit holders and their family members, cross-border workers, medical staff, researchers, and diplomats. Non-exempt travelers should anticipate being refused entry. Foreign nationals will continue to be allowed to exit but are advised to check entry restrictions of their destination country before traveling.

These measures will impact foreign workers regardless of whether they already have their work and entry visas, and employers and foreign nationals are advised to postpone travel plans, possibly beyond the current anticipated end date, as the ban may be extended.

United Kingdom

The United Kingdom has not yet issued any formal travel bans in response to COVID-19. In February, the UK Home Office issued guidance for nationals unable to return to China from the United Kingdom. In light of the recent developments, the Home Office is expected to expand this guidance beyond China to cover individuals from other countries.

Below is a summary of the current Home Office guidance:

  • Chinese nationals in the United Kingdom with visas expiring between January 24, 2020, and March 30, 2020, will receive an automatic extension to March 31, 2020. No new biometric residence permits will be issued.
  • Non-Chinese or Non-European Economic Area (EEA) nationals in the United Kingdom who are normally resident in China and have visas expiring between January 24, 2020, and March 30, 2020, should contact the Coronavirus Immigration Helpline (details below) for help extending visas.
  • Chinese nationals in the United Kingdom on Tier 2 (ICT) visas expiring between January 24, 2020, and March 30, 2020, can exceptionally apply to switch to Tier 2 (General) visas from within the United Kingdom.
  • Nationals whose passports are currently being held at UK visa application centers in China should apply to their respective consulates for alternate travel documents.
  • Sponsors do not need to report student or employee absences related to COVID-19 that they have authorized, nor do they need to withdraw sponsorship if an employee is absent from work without pay for four weeks or more related to COVID-19.
  • For any other immigration query related to COVID-19, please contact the Coronavirus Immigration Helpline: +0800.678.1767 (Monday to Friday, 9:00 am–5:00 pm GMT) or email CIH@homeoffice.gov.uk.

With more employees working remotely, employers should still ensure compliance with their right-to-work check obligations. The current Home Office guidance states that if employers are unable to meet with an employee in person to carry out a right-to-work check, an employer can check the validity of the documents via a live video link. In this case, the employer must still be in physical possession of the original documents. For example, an individual may choose to send their documents by post to the employer to conduct the check with the employee via live video link. Employers may not rely on the inspection of required documents via a live video link or by checking a faxed or scanned copy of the document. This guidance has not yet been updated in light of COVID-19. However, we anticipate that the Home Office guidance will be widened in due course.

Ireland

Ireland has not yet issued any formal travel bans in response to COVID-19.

With more employees working remotely, the Department of Business, Enterprise and Innovation (DBEI) has confirmed that where an Irish work permit holder is required to work from home due to COVID-19 (and their home address is not stated as a “place of work” on their permit), a notification must be sent by email to DBEI (employmentpermits@dbei.gov.ie) including the employee’s full details and application ID number. The notification requirement applies to permit holders only, i.e., not to persons whose permission to work is based on a stamp 1G, stamp 2, or stamp 4.

India

The government of India has extended its travel ban on both international travelers as well as Indian nationals residing in the following countries effective March 18, 2020 at 12:00 GMT until March 31, 2020:

  • European Union member countries
  • European Free Trade Association member countries (Switzerland, Norway, Liechtenstein, and Iceland)
  • Turkey
  • United Kingdom

Additionally, travel from Afghanistan, the Philippines, and Malaysia to India has been prohibited with immediate effect from 3:00 pm Indian Standard Time (IST) until March 31, 2020.

Australia

Non-Australian nationals (excluding permanent residents) who have been in the following countries will not be allowed to enter Australia for 14 days from the time they have left or transited through mainland China, Iran, Republic of Korea, or Italy. All travelers to Australia will be required to self-isolate for 14 days.

Australian citizens and permanent residents will still be able to enter, as will their immediate family members (spouses, legal guardians, and dependants only).

Australia will deny entry to anyone who has left or transited a country subject to travel restrictions within the previous 14 days, with the exception of the following:

  • Australian citizens
  • Permanent residents
  • New Zealand citizens resident in Australia
  • Immediate family members of Australian citizens and permanent residents including spouses, minor dependents, and legal guardians

Canada

The Canadian government has closed its borders to non-Canadian citizens, with the exception of immediate family members of citizens and permanent residents, diplomats, air crew, and US citizens. Travelers in transit to a third country will also be allowed entry for this purpose. This ban will take effect on Wednesday, March 18, 2020 at 12:00 pm EDT.

Any non-Canadian national who has resided in the United States for the last 14 days will also be exempt from the ban (including those in non-immigrant and other temporary statuses). This includes any immediate family members—spouses, children, and common-law spouses/same-sex partners ONLY. Once allowed into Canada, such travelers will be asked to undergo a 14-day quarantine.

All eligible entrants into Canada (by air) will be subject to a mandatory 14-day self-quarantine, including Canadian citizens and permanent residents. It has not been confirmed yet whether these restrictions will also apply to land border travel, but more announcements are expected in the coming days.

For those already in Canada, we advise against all non-essential travel outside of the country, and if you are eligible for re-entry to Canada given the recent travel ban, it is advised that you return to Canada as soon as possible.

Those who hold Canadian work permit approvals and will be entering Canada starting March 18, 2020, will have a waiting period of 14 days before they can receive their Social Insurance Numbers (SIN).

Intermittent travelers between the United States and Canada will be subject to imposed self-quarantine. Therefore, it is highly recommended that intermittent travelers who are currently in Canada and whose presence is required for business purposes remain in Canada.

If you are currently in Canada and applied for an extension of your status, there are no changes to implied status rules.

If you are currently applying for permanent residence or other temporary resident status, please be advised that the requirements to complete biometrics (ordinarily 30 days from the date of the biometric request notice), as well as any other document requests, have been extended to 90 days.

Landing interviews (Ontario Province) and citizenship interviews have been canceled until further notice. Landing interviews may be rescheduled to be over telephone.

All US visa services have been suspended throughout Canada.

Remote work for temporary foreign workers, which would normally not be permissible, should not be an issue at this time.

Please Note: The changes discussed in this LawFlash are in effect as of the day of publication, but the landscape is changing daily. Prior to any international travel, please check real-time updates from country officials.

Contacts

If you have any questions about travel to the abovementioned countries or any other country, please reach out to our Global Immigration Team.

London
Jennifer Connolly
Yvette Allen

New York
Jamie Cheung

Washington, DC
Shannon A. Donnelly